An Interview with Robert Valley

September 3, 2021

Have you always aspired to create art, or did you discover your calling later in life?

I’ve always drawn pictures, ever since I could remember. In the beginning, I wanted to be a comic book artist but then I happened to accidentally get into animation in art school. I discovered I wasn’t very good at finishing any one particular drawing, but I was really good at not finishing a big pile of drawings. Bruce Springsteen may be born to run, but I was born to animate. It’s the only thing I know how to do, and I’ve tried everything. From real estate, cooking to driving cabs, I suck at all of those things.

Did you study art as a student or are you self-taught?

I went to art school and studied animation for three years, then I got a job right after I graduated (to my father’s absolute surprise- he thought I was going to be in his basement forever). We were sadly unprepared to work in the industry after we graduated from art school. Sure, we could make our own independent film, but I found I had no practical skills that I could apply in the industry, so I had to learn quick.

Immediately after school, I worked on storyboards and layouts, then I cut my teeth on advertising for the next few years. That was the best way to sharpen my skills because from one job to the next, you were working in a completely different style, and you had to become a bit of a style chameleon and adapt.

Image by Robert Valley

What artist or artists informed your development? And what artists do you look to now for inspiration?

The development years were all comic artists, Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, Neil Adams, then I discovered Frazetta, I was stuck there for quite some time. Then I discovered the three M’s – Mignola, Minara and Moebius.

In my animation career I have had two big influences. The first was Peter Chung (Aeon Flux) and the other was Jamie Hewlett (Gorillaz). I think my style is a bit of a cocktail of all these things.

What was a pivotal moment in the evolution of your work?

I started self-publishing my own graphic novel series called Massive Swerve, it was here that I learned to hone my own style. The other pivotal moment was when I discovered the timeline function in photoshop, then I was off to the races.

Look, I have to be honest. The main reason I started self-publishing was because no one else would publish my books. In a way though, it was good because I could do whatever I wanted. I gradually started to discover the kind of stories I really wanted to tell. Usually, stories that had the ring of truth to them, events that happen to me personally or to people that I knew. I am not so much as a writer, as I am a rememberer.

Image by Robert Valley

Tell us about your process. Do you begin with an image or a concept?

I’ve always been interested in the crossover between comic book and animation. I like to start off with mental images, that works for the storyboarding part of the process and lends itself to interesting staging. Those images usually start off on a piece of paper and end up on my computer, but as I move into layouts and designs, I usually need to refer to reference. Thank God for Google and YouTube.

What informs your work? As a visual artist, are you inspired by music, film, science, literature or other art forms?

My work divides into two parts, the work I do for money, and the work that I do for myself. The independent film making, and self-publishing is really where my heart is. I didn’t really answer that question did I?  I am inspired by true stories, stuff that happens to me, or stories I hear from other people.

What was the most challenging project that you worked on?

By far the most challenging thing I ever worked on was my 30-minute animated short film called PEAR CIDER AND CIGARETTES. That took several years to complete, and I animated the whole damn thing by myself.

The way I see it, you have to finish what you start. You could have the best idea in the world but if you don’t finish it, it doesn’t mean shit.

BUT…you could have a shitty idea, and if you finish it, well at least it’s out there in the real world circulating around. So, I knew once I got locked into creating PEAR CIDER AND CIGARETTES, I would be in for the long haul (in this case it took about three and a half years). I even quit drinking during this time to help me stay focused on the goal (talk about commitment). I’ll tell you this…I loved almost every damn minute of making that film.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes written and directed by Robert Balley in 2016.
Image by Robert Valley
What do you enjoy most about the work you do?

I am compelled beyond my control to work on my own stories, it’s not about enjoyment really, it’s just something that I keep coming back to.  I feel like a have a few more stories to tell.

How do you think NFTs will change the future for artists?

Well for me it gives me an opportunity to repurpose some of the original content that has been kicking around on my hard drives. I have lots of animation and still images that I own outright. Moving forward I am hoping this NFT component will make it possible for my to finance future independent projects.

Robert Valley

Robert Valley is an award-winning illustrator, animator and director. He most recently won an Emmy® Award for Production Design on Netflix’s “Love, Death and Robots” Season 2, “ICE” and was nominated for Outstanding Short Form Animated Program. Robert’s short film ‘Pear Cider and Cigarettes’ – which he animated and directed – won an Annie award and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2017.

Robert has worked on a variety of short and long form animated projects including:
Director on Netflix “Love, Death & Robots” Season 1 “ZIMA BLUE”
Director on Metallica music video “Murder One” – about the life and times of Lemmy from Motorhead
Animation Director on Gorillaz “Saturn’s Bars’ and many other Gorillaz projects
Character designer and Episode Director on “Tron Uprising”
Animation Director and Character Design on “Beatles Rock Band”